RALEIGH — When Leesville Road’s volleyball team won its first game of the conference tournament Thursday, several things were different from last year, when the Pride went on to finish as a state runner-up.
The team had some new players, and new jerseys, but the head coach on the bench was also different.
Leesville Road has been coached by former junior varsity coach Christie Dobbin since varsity coach Taine Mergenthaler was suspended following an ejection during a Sept. 5 match at Broughton.
School athletics director Jack Rogers said he could not comment on the situation.
But for some players and their parents, the uncertainty has been unnerving.
“Some of our frustration is they haven’t said a word to the parents, not a single word,” said Heath Rice, whose daughter Rebecca is a junior on the team.
Mergenthaler, who began coaching at Leesville in 2009 and was named Cap Eight Coach of the Year for the past two seasons, was tossed from the game after he was accused of mouthing an expletive during the match.
“Even if, let’s pretend, he did do that, I guarantee you if you go stand on the football sidelines and basketball sidelines you’re going to hear much worse said to the referees and players,” Rice said. “If it was a bigger deal than him mouthing something, tell us something.”
Mergenthaler, who received a red card earlier in the season and a yellow card during last year’s NCHSAA 4A championship match, denies he mouthed the word. He said he has never been ejected, but would have been fine with serving the N.C. High School Athletic Association’s mandatory two-match suspension for ejections.
Instead, he has been suspended with pay for more than a month.
“I’m trying to get back in,” said Megenthaler. “We’re a close-knit group. (The team means) a lot to me and I mean a lot to them. ... I don’t know what’s going on. I’m not sure why it is taking this long, but in their words I’m suspended for the ejection and other allegations.”
Leesville Road (16-10) has won 10 of its past 15 games since the incident.
“It was definitely upsetting that our coach couldn’t come back to help us or come to the games or anything, but I think we’ve handled it pretty well and we’ve taken it as a reason to work harder,” senior captain Samara Brown said.
Dobbin declined to speak on the midseason transition.
“I’d prefer not to talk about that,” Dobbin said. “I want the focus to be on the girls and how they’re playing. It shouldn’t matter that there’s a different coach.”
Leesville Road will face Broughton in the Cap Eight tournament semifinals Monday hosted by Wakefield.